Rep Cathy Crawford
House approves Rep. Crawford’s plan promoting language equality and acquisition for Michigan’s deaf and hard-of-hearing community
RELEASE|November 6, 2020

The Michigan House Thursday overwhelmingly approved state Rep. Kathy Crawford’s plan promoting language equality and acquisition for children who are deaf and hard of hearing in Michigan.

Crawford’s measure is in response to high rates of delayed language acquisition and language deprivation among the deaf and hard-of-hearing community – particularly children who are American Sign Language (ASL) users. Despite being a recognized language in Michigan, there is no formal statewide system to monitor, track and report a child’s language benchmarks in ASL. Michigan also lacks a statewide ASL language assessment for children who are deaf and hard of hearing from birth to age five.

Crawford, who chairs the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee, said the lack of language acquisition and early intervention resources for deaf or hard-of-hearing children who use ASL is resulting in a high number of children who are not prepared for Kindergarten in English literacy, reading and writing.

“More than 90 percent of children who are deaf or hard of hearing are born to hearing parents – a substantial majority of whom do not know how to sign or even what resources are available to help their children acquire language,” Crawford said. “This has caused a delay in language acquisition for these children during their most critical years, and has often resulted in language deprivation. Language deprivation can have irreparable consequences that last a lifetime, especially when it comes to future success in the workplace.”

The plan would establish a 15-member advisory committee within the Michigan Department of Education that is made up of parents, educators and advocates who will consult with the department on creating ASL language milestones and assessment tools for children age five or younger. The milestones and assessments would be included in a resource for parents to be able to monitor and track their child’s expressive and receptive language acquisition and developmental stages toward English literacy using ASL, English or both, and may also be used when developing a child’s individualized education plan.

Crawford’s measure will also require the department to distribute the language milestones and assessment tools to intermediate school districts, public school academies and the Michigan School for the Deaf. Each year, the department will report the literacy development of deaf and hard-of-hearing children who are age five or younger as compared to their peers.

“The reality is Michigan’s education system has been ill-equipped to meet the needs of these children for too long,” Crawford said. “We spend a great deal of energy on the educational success of their hearing peers, but no child should ever go forgotten. We need to put as much time, energy and resources in ensuring deaf and hard-of-hearing children have equal opportunities to achieve all of their dreams. It all starts with a strong language foundation, and that’s exactly what this measure will do.”

House Bill 5836 now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

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